Unmasking Ghanaian Christianity III – “By The Grace of God”

Grace

Here’s Part I and Part II of the series.

One of the great failures in communication is to use the same words with a person, but have different understandings of what those words mean. This failure is even worse when these words are associated with or derived from the bible, and yet have taken a totally different meaning and are subsequently being read back into the bible. So for those who actually do care about what the bible and Jesus has to say to the world, a vital skill to develop is the discernment to recognize when biblical words have been co-opted by the culture around us, and to ensure that we articulate a clearer explanation of what we mean when we use those words. In this respect I believe that one of the saddest and most damaging failures of contextualization amongst Ghanaian bible teachers for decades is how the wonderful New Testament language of “grace” has been totally bastardized by Ghanaian culture, unhinging it from its biblical roots. As with everything that Christendom comes along with, it’s gotten so bad that this unbiblical usages has become the standard way by which one’s “devoutness as a Christian” is judged in Ghana. Let me explain.

The Old Testament and Grace

We see the term “grace” used mostly by Paul in his letters to the churches he founded. However the concept it carried had been in use long before Paul to describe God’s choice of the people of Israel as his chosen people. As I’ve previously argued elsewhere, the idea that 1st century Judaism was a religion of works-righteousness where people were trying to get saved through “their own righteousness” has been proven largely to be an incorrect position that Christians attributed to Judaism since the days of the Protestant Reformation. As NT scholar Richard B. Hayes of Duke Divinity puts it

“The most important advance of New Testament scholarship in the second half of the twentieth century has been its dramatic reframing of the relationship between early Christianity and formative Judaism”. – Richard B. Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament.

First century Jews believed that God chose Israel by grace – because he loved their fathers (Deut 7:7-8) – and not because of any work they did. To them keeping the law was a means of showing that one was indeed under grace. Grace was god’s gift of making them his “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6), a gift they did nothing to deserve.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut 7:7-8)

The New Testament and Grace

Paul’s usage of the word grace falls exactly in this same line. By the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the doorway had now been open for the Gentiles to also become a part of God’s chosen people as expressed by prophets of old about Yahweh’s return. This time however, membership shall not be counted by descent from Abraham, but by “faith in Christ”.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God … Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:8-13)

For the Paul then, “grace” is about how Gentiles (and other classes of excluded people) came on equal footing with Jews to become part of God’s chosen nation.

Paul further expanded the usage of the word grace to cover additional grounds. He speaks of God setting him apart “from his mother’s womb” to preach him amongst the gentiles “by his grace” (Gal 1:15-16). He speaks of receiving “grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Rom 1:5). He calls the gifts of ministry given to his Gentile church members “gifts according to the grace given to each of us” (Rom 12:6).

But Paul goes on to say something which is quite striking, and I believe has been the cause of stumbling of many in Ghanaian Christendom regarding the use of the word “grace”. He says everything he is and everything HE HAS DONE is God’s grace. It is explicit what Paul is talking about, but I think sadly many exegetes haven’t paid attention to the whole point Paul is driving at.

But by the grace of God I am what I am … ” (1 Cor 15:10)

Thankfully he doesn’t stop there, but continues

and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

In the above usages of “grace”, Paul speaks of it as empowering him to actually engage in mission for God – a mission which he has repeated mentioned – of bringing that same grace that he has received to the Gentiles. This second usage of “grace” describes then a special empowering to serve God, not just a grace to be anything he so desired. In essence, grace must lead to work, and Paul says his missionary efforts are all due to grace on his life.

The Corruption of Grace

It would seem however that in the fervency of Christianity (especially the Protestant category) in Ghana to emphasize grace as God’s free gift, it has lost its anchor – 1) that grace was about God accepting us Gentiles (in this case Ghanaians) into his family aka election. 2) that grace was about the power to continue to serve in God’s mission (not our own mission) AFTER being called into this family.

As I began to pay more attention to these usages of grace in the New Testament and to compare it to contemporary and historical Ghanaian Christianity’s usage of it, I began to realize how deviated we might be from the New Testament understanding of it. I recently asked in our church what people meant by the Twi word “adom”, and the answer was universally the same – unmerited favour for anything good in this life. And therein lies the problem – our concept of grace has no boundaries. We began to reflect on the songs we used to sing in our previous lives as Pentecostals and other Christian traditions (and some of which are still in vogue today), and the usage of the word “adom” in those songs – “adom” being the Twi word for grace.

Song 1

Twi – “Se wo abrabo mu nsem, yeyie mawo a, hwe yie na wo an hoa hoa wo ho, efrise eye Onyam n’adom ara kwa, na wo te se nia wo ti.”

Translation – “When life is good for you, do not get proud about it, but remember that it is by God’s grace that you are who you are

Note – The boldened part looks a lot like 1 Cor 5:10

Song 2

Twi – “Adom, adom, adom bia m’enya. Adom na miti ase, emu na me keka me ho, emu na me ye m’adie nyinaa ”

Translation – “Grace, grace, oh what grace I have received. It is by grace that I live, it is by grace that I move, it is by grace that I do everything”

Note – This sounds a lot like For in him we live and move and have our being” in Acts 17:28, but note Paul didn’t use the word “grace” here.

I could go on giving more examples of Ghanaian Christian songs with this motif. The word “adom” in these songs has moved beyond grace as a means of election and as a means of empowerment to serve after joining the elect, to grace being used to describe any “good” thing that comes one’s way. This has led to the following behaviour and subsequent questions in Ghanain Christendom.

  1. Amakye Dede, a popular highlife musician whose music I love was involved in an accident last December, and his manager died. He survived, and in typical Christendom fashion, Christians responded with “It’s only God’s grace that saved him from the accident”. The question becomes why did that grace – if it’s free and unmerited – not extend to his manager? Or did Amakye merit it?

  2. A marriage announcement is typically made with “By the grace of God, Kofi is getting married to Ama next week”. If grace is free and unmerited, why is Adwoa who is 35 years old not married, but Kofi and Ama in their twenties are getting married?

  3. During prayer meetings, one is reminded to pray thanking God that one is alive, because it is only by the grace of God that one is alive and not at the ICU of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana’s largest hospital. The obvious question is – if grace is free and unmerited, what kind of arbitrary God would decide to put some in a coma and allow some to breathe air freely? And is it the abundance of my thanks that keeps me from being in a coma like those unfortunate brethren? If that’s the case, is that grace really free and unmerited?

It is this usage of “grace” that has permeated Ghanaian Christendom such that when one is asked the simple question “how are you”, the “Christian” response is “I’m fine BY GOD’S GRACE”. When I began paying better attention to New Testament theology, I became wary of responding this way, and simply responded with “I’m fine” or “I’m alright”. Interestingly I’ve received queries from some friends as to why my response is always “dry” – by this they mean my response doesn’t sound “Christian”. Fortunately/unfortunately I still respond “I’m fine by the Grace of God” to my older relatives (uncles and aunties and that old crowd) because until I declare myself a Moslem or something else, it is the “Christian” thing to do, and I’m better off saving myself the trouble of negative impressions and questions. Even some Christians expect Moslems to somehow respond with “Nyame Adom oh” i.e. “I’m fine by God’s grace”

But what Christendom doesn’t realize about being precise about language is that if we decouple it from it’s biblical moorings, our words will be (and have already been) co-opted by interests not aligned with Jesus Christ, and we will either complain bitterly about these to no end or end up reading the bad usage back into our bibles. Let me give an example.

The Ghanaian hiplife rapper EL (whose artistry I totally admire by the way, coupled with my bias towards him as a former student of Presec Legon) has recently released a song called “Koko”, meaning “Easy”. Standing in front of a cross mounted by the German Christian missionaries on Mt Gemi in the Volta Region a century ago, he speaks of how everything is easy for his god to do for him, and one line says

Pidgin English – “And by his grace, there’s no girl I no go fit run oh”

Translation – “And by his grace, there’s no girl I cannot have as my lover”

Can Christians endorse this usage of the word grace, especially when being used to talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Is this the way of the Christian God as we see in the bible?

Conclusion

And yet EL is very right if judged by the already flawed understanding of “grace” in Ghanaian Christendom. If anything one determines as “good” for oneself must have been made available to you “by the grace of God”, then EL’s ability to snag any woman he desires is indeed by the grace of God. By extension, the ability to steal money from one’s public service job to build a nice house for oneself is “by the grace of God”, not so? Ever wonder why corruption is not going anywhere soon when the 70% Ghanaian Christian population think like this?

And one of the clearest ways that we can begin tackling this is to properly introspect our “gospel” songs, even our old favourites. Because the easiest way to spread false teaching in Africa is to put it to a nice danceable beat. The African love of dancing is a double edged sword that has been used to carry flawed theology for eons, and cannot be left to wander on its own without inspection. It’s part of the reasons why in my church we resolved to write and sing our own songs, instead of complaining about some of the trash being produced in the name of “gospel” music in Ghana.

I’ve had pushback from some friends about my qualms on the abuse of this “by the grace of God” theme, even when answering the simple question “how are you”, but I’m not budging from it. I might consider it if I were a high Calvinist and believed in divine determinism, but I’m not and so I desire that we rather wake up from this abuse. Because if we do not become a people who properly discern our culture, there will be only one end result – our culture will swallow us up, and there will be nothing left of true Christianity to speak of, practice or even defend.

Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur – The Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him.

Understanding the NT From the OT Part 2 – A Look at the Jewish Symbols

Praying at the Temple Mount

Photo Credit: Robert Croma via Compfight cc

The 3 main beliefs i.e. “creational monotheism”, “election” and “eschatology” as discussed in Part 1, led to certain symbolic activities and attachments. In the New Testament, these symbols are renewed and reapplied in Jesus Christ and his church, both in the Gospels and in the epistles. Today, we’ll look at some of these symbols and their exposition in the New Testament.

The Land

It is not very obvious from the NT how important the people of Yisrael took their nation and the land on which it was situated, but it’s impact cannot be underestimated. The land which formerly belonged to Canaan was now theirs through God’s fulfillment of his promises to their Fathers. The blessings that God intended to give them (see Deut 28) was to be experienced in and through that land. In addition, it was the land from which YHWH intended to rule the rest of the world. Of course that meant that Jerusalem would be the administrative center of God’s world wide rule in the age to come aka “the kingdom of God”, but YHWH was expected to cleanse the whole nation to make it fit to be a place to rule from. This hope in the blessedness of the land as a means of drawing the nations’ attention as well is expressed in many of the Psalms and Prophets, such as Ps 67

May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. The land yield it’s harvest; God our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him” (Ps 67:5-6).

We see 2 beliefs working here – YHWH (monotheism) had given his own people (election) the land of Canaan as he promised to their father to be their place of blessing. The 3rd belief (eschatology) is also at work here, but we’ll talk more about that in Part 3.

The Temple

The NT undoubtedly has many references to the temple and rightly so, for it is a central symbol of Jewish nationality. The land as a symbol is further strengthened by fact of the temple of Jerusalem being situated in that Land. The temple was the place where YHWH dwelled, and where he poured his mercy, grace, forgiveness and restoration on his people if and when they had sinned. Of cleansing from sin, NT scholar NT Wright has this to say in his book whose title is incidentally also abbreviated NTPG

Defilement, of course, was not a matter of individual piety alone, but of communal life; uncleanness … meant disassociation from the people of the covenant god.” (New Testament and the People of God, Nicholas Thomas Wright).

More critically he goes on to say

But the Temple was not simply the ‘religious’ center of Yisrael … [it] combined in itself the functions of religion, national figurehead and government. The high priest, who was in charge of the temple, was as important a political figure as he was a religious one. When we study the city-plan of ancient Jerusalem, the significance of the Temple stands out at once, since it occupies a phenomenally large proportion (about 25%) of the entire city. Jerusalem was not, like Corinth for example, a large city with lots of little temples dotted here and there … [it was more] like a temple with a small city round it”.(New Testament and the People of God, Nicholas Thomas Wright).

Note that Solomon’s temple was built based on YHWH’s own design mediated to men, and YHWH’s glory had descended to fill it when the building was consecrated. All this therefore strengthened Yisrael’s belief that YHWH truly dwelt there in the Holy of Holies, between the 2 cherubim that stood on top of the ark of the covenant placed in there.

It was built on a mountain called Zion and hence the Psalms speak of God ruling from Zion, God dwelling in Zion etc. Just like we today say “The White House has decided to …” to refer to decisions taken by the US government and therefore the nation of USA , so was “Zion” a codeword not just for the Temple that sat on the mountain, but the nation Yisrael and it’s leadership. The Psalms are therefore littered with such “zionic” references – Ps 48;15:1-2; 24:3-5; 76; 96:7-9; 97:6-9; 99:1-2.

Again we see 2 beliefs working here – YHWH (monotheism) chooses to dwell in the Temple in Jerusalem and not any other temple (election). We’ll look at the third belief that the temple evokes later.

The Law

Torah (The Law) was the temple’s inseparable partner. It was the constitution of the people of Yisrael, but not only did it cover just their political lives as modern constitutions are wont to do, it covered their religious and economic lives. The Torah and its observance necessarily led to Temple activities (mostly sacrifices), and also lead to regulations on the Land (fallow periods, return of land to owners during Jubilee, right to inherit land, leaving a portion of food grown on the land for the poor etc.) As I mentioned in the previous post, keeping the 613 laws of the Torah was not just a question of “personal/individual relationship with God” or “personal righteousness to go to heaven”. The Torah dictated how the people were to live together on that Land (and beyond) and to relate to YHWH (through the temple) so that God’s blessings might be on the nation. . And as a result, it was meant and targeted at a very specific people – the people of Yisrael. Therefore Torah observance was not just a personal religious choice, it was a choice that made even a Gentile now become a Jew (not just a follower of a religion called “Judaism”). Obeying the Torah then, was an issue of national identity.

To the modern Christian to whom separation between nationality and religion is a moot point, it has been very difficult to grasp this role of the Torah. This is further aggravated by how Protestant Christianity has unfortunately painted a warped picture of the Torah around only personal sinfulness and “justification”, leaving out its corporate dimensions.

Here again, we see how monotheism and election are at work through the Torah. The eschatology angle will be addressed later.

The Impact of the Babylonian Exile

The attachment to these symbols was dramatically changed when Babylon descended on Judah and carried off the people into exile. The nation seemed to have forgotten that YHWH’s presence with them depended on their faithful observance of the Torah, and drifted off after their own desires and after other gods. The prophets began calling them to attention, from Elijah, to Elisha, to Jeremiah, without much long term success. Their confidence was in their election as a special people of YHWH, and they felt secure in the fact of YHWH dwelling in the Temple in Jerusalem. YHWH actually sends Jeremiah to the Temple, to declare it’s destruction (along with the nation as well).

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all of you people of Judah who come to these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Yisrael, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say ‘This is the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly … then I will let you live in this place … Will you steal and murder … burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house … and say ‘We are safe’?’” (Jer 7:1-11).

Of course, the rest as they say, is history. Babylon led by Nebuchadnezer descended on them, destroyed the temple and the city, and carried off the people of Judah to Babylon where they lived in captivity for about 70 years. The events of the book of Daniel reflect this period. This event seriously challenged their faith and understanding of YHWH’s relationship with them and raised a lot of questions. Was YHWH dead? If not, why had he abandoned his temple for it to be destroyed by his enemies? Was it because they had sinned? What must they do to make YHWH look favorably on them again? If YHWH was going to restore them as mentioned in Deut 30, what form and shape should will this restoration take? The books of the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi, need to be read with this background of exile and restoration in our minds then.

To cope with the loss of 2 central symbols (Land and Temple), the whole focus of Jewish identity shifted to Torah observation. Not only was observing the Torah a mark of Jewish identity as discussed above, it also became a means by which salvation will come to them from the grips of their captors. These are the beginnings of the usage of the words we so love today – “salvation” and “forgiveness of sins”. To the Jew therefore, not only was “forgiveness of sins” about their personal sins, but it was about God forgiving his nation and returning to look favorably upon them. Compare the prayer of Daniel 9 with Deuteronomy 28-30, and the picture is clear what he meant in his prayer, pleading for “forgiveness of sins” for his people.

In consonance with this urge toward greater Torah observation as a means of salvation, groups of Jews in exile began forming who took the observance of Torah quite seriously, and debated how this could be done, especially in exile where they had lost the 2 other symbols. This was the beginning of the group called “the Pharisees”, much misunderstood and maligned by modern Christianity. As is natural even in Christianity, too much emphasis on obeying a set of laws always leads to legalism of sorts, but for Pharisaim, it wasn’t only about personal righteousness but also about corporate righteousness – in order for YHWH to look favorably on his elect people. In addition, being in exile in another land meant they were faced with new challenges that they hadn’t faced before when they were in their own land. The debates (mostly by Pharisees) as to what to do with these difficulties lead to the accumulation gradually of an oral law being added to the written law, which today are referred to as the Mishnah and the Talmud. This oral law is what Jesus referred to as “the traditions of men”, since they sometimes overrode what the Torah, commanded by YHWH had said on some issues.

Regarding how YHWH could abandon his temple for his enemies to destroy, they consoled themselves with what Solomon himself said when he consecrated the Temple (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 2:6) as well as what the other prophets said (Is 66:1) – YHWH does not dwell in a building made by the hands of men – he dwells within and amongst the righteous. And this is exactly the accusation that got Steven stoned in Acts 7 – he was insinuating that YHWH did not dwell in the new 2nd Temple as well. And who were the righteous? The children of YHWH who observed the Torah. It can be seen very clearly then where Paul obtains his theology about the Spirit of God dwelling within and amongst Christians in 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19. As uncomfortable as it sounds to some Christians, Paul’s own training as a Pharisee had a lot to do with his theology. Paying more attention to Pharisaism might actually be very helpful to understanding the apostle.

Because of the loss of the Temple, which was so central to their lives, the concept of synagogues gained currency as small meeting places where Jews could still meet to peruse the Torah and maintain communal purity even whiles in exile.

Return From Exile

When King Darius the Mede finally allowed them to go back, they returned to meet some of their fellow Jews who remained and were not carried off in the exile, living in Samaria. They had also built their own temple and were claiming that was where YHWH lived. The returnees went back to the 2 remaining regions i.e. the southern region of Judea, where Jerusalem was and northern region of Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his life. Samaria was now in the middle of the 2 regions, and one had to cross from one to the other through Samaria (reference Lk 10:25-37 aka the good samaritan story)

The project to rebuild the 2nd Temple began earnestly, the foundation of which was laid by Zerubabel. Again, it attempted to follow the 1st Temple’s design and reach it’s prominence, but that aim was better achieved through the work of King Herod, leading to it being also referred to as “Herod’s Temple”, alongside “Zerubabel’s Temple” as well. This period of return from exile is what is typically referred to as the 2nd Temple period, and is the time when Jesus Christ arrived on the scene. The continuous existence of the Samaritan temple was an affront to the returnees who claimed the Temple ought to be sited in Jerusalem, and led to one of the Maccabean leaders (John Hyrcanus) entering Samaria with his followers and destroying their temple in 110 BC. This is the background for the hatred between the Judaeans/Galileeans on the one hand and their Samaritan brethren on the other, which Jesus addressed in the story of the Samaritan woman.

Note also that it was this same 2nd Temple and its mountain, which occupied the same 25% of Jerusalem like the 1st Temple, that Jesus was addressing when he said “if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea’ … it will be done for him” (Mk 11:23), a point which I addressed further in this post.

Pharisaism however, remained a very active force even after the return from exile, and their confrontations with Jesus are well recorded in the Gospels. The obvious clue to Pharisaism’s nonexistence before the exile is the absence of any mention of it in the OT. The same can be said of synagogues.

Conclusion

We can see how the 3 main beliefs of Yisrael informed their attachment to their symbols. Monotheism (YHWH is the one and only God) and election (we are his covenant people) run through every symbol of theirs.

However, the events of the exile and its return put the focus squarely on the third belief – eschatology. We will look at that angle in the next post, and we will begin to see more clearly Jesus’s mission and how it is all driven by the eschatological expectations of the Jews, albeit in a changed way which was very uncomfortable to the Jews themselves.

Let us remember, Jesus was a Jew not a Gentile. Reading him without putting on the glasses of Jewish worldview is probably one of the greatest misfortunes that the church has brought on itself. Because when we do understand and apply that worldview, we begin to see clearer the worldwide implications of the beliefs of a very small nation called Yisrael and their God called YHWH. For the story of Yisrael was never about them alone – it was about them and the rest of the world, but you need to understand Yisrael’s story first, before you get the worldwide impact of their story correct.

Falling in Love With The New Testament

In handling the subject of ministry in the New Testament it is essential to remember the order in which the books of the New Testament were written. If we assume, as the order in which the books of the New Testament are now presented would lead us to assume, that the Gospels were written first, and then Acts, and then the letters of Paul, beginning with Romans and ending with the Pastoral Epistles to Timothy to Titus and the Letter to Philemon, we shall never be able to understand the development of the institutions and the thought of the early church” – Richard Hanson, 20th century patristic scholar

Scholars agree that one of the reasons why we miss so much of the realities of the New Testament is because it is not presented and read in the right way. Now someone will wonder where I’m coming from and why I say this, but I speak from personal experience that changing my attitude towards the New Testament has changed my attitude towards Christ, his Church and Christianity in general. I’ll like to share some of these insights with us, the majority of which come from “The Untold Story of the New Testament Church” and “Pagan Christianity” both by Frank Viola. He has managed to put the highly academic and cryptic research of bible scholars and historians on the New Testament into books that are easily accessible to mere Christian mortals like us who want to know more. Also, some additional insight was gleaned from “The Chronological Bible” published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The Order of the New Testament Books

As the quote above from Richard Hanson states, most Christians do not know that the NT books are not arranged in their chronological order, i.e. according to the date and time in which they were written. We assume the Gospels were written first, followed by the letters of Paul in the order of Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians and so on, followed by Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2 & 3 John, Jude and Revelations. But alas, how mistaken we are. The New Testament, especially Paul’s epistles, were arranged in the order of length, with the book of Romans being the longest. This was most likely due to the fact that at the time the Bible was being put together, it wasn’t possible to know when exactly the letters were written. So they followed the precedent used in Greco-Roman literature – they ordered it according to length.

Though there are few variations which scholars do not fully agree on, the following is the most likely order of the Pauline Epistles.

Galatians → 1 Thessalonians → 2 Thessalonians → 1 Corinthians → 2 Corinthians → Romans → Colossians → Philemon → Ephesians → Philippians → 1 Timothy → Titus → 2 Timothy

Does that rock your world yet? Well, in addition, although the events of the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke & John) happened before all the Epistles, most of them were written during the apostles’ lifetime, or after their death.

The NT is Mostly A Book of Letters, Not a Rule Book

There is a certain attitude with which we come to the Bible, an attitude which has been the cause of so much strife and confusion in the Christian landscape. We come with assumption that the Bible is made up of piece of statements, each without a relation with the other. Therefore we can easily just pick up a verse and craft a whole theory from it. This is what is called proof texting, and the harm that it has caused (and is still causing) to the body of Christ is unimaginable. This is with total disregard for the chronology, audience, context and culture of these times & people.

The New Testament has arguably suffered even more of such harm than any other part of the Bible. It is important that we begin to look at the letters that Paul wrote as letters to either churches or individuals. Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians were all written to churches. Therefore, it is important to read them not as a letter to an individual, but a letter to a group of people i.e. a local body of Christ gathered together. The practice in those days was that a letter from an apostle was read to the whole gathering, or passed on from house church to house church within the city, since it wasn’t easy to make copies of letters as we do today with scanners and photocopy machines. In hindsight then, it makes you think again about applying something like 2 Cor 5:21 to ourselves as individuals, when in fact Paul was referring to the body of Christ gathered in Corinth.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him WE might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

Christ is our head, and we who gather together at one place are the manifestation of him to the world i.e. we are his body. Therefore it is not logical for I alone to be the righteousness of God. We, his body, are God’s righteousness, because we together depict Christ. See what I mean?

Another example which has been mistranslated at least in the NIV is 2 Cor 3:18. Look out for the word “face” instead of “faces” in the NIV.

But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18, KJV or NKJV).

We as a people are beholding Christ with one face, not individual faces. The transformation from glory to glory is not only happening to us as individual, but happening to us as a community of people. This is the kind of transformation which Paul talked about in Ro 12 i.e. “Do not conform to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. This is the only way in which a body of Christians can be united in mind, because they together are beholding Christ as with one face.

God has destined before the foundation of the earth that his manifold wisdom be displayed not through us as individuals, but through his church, as contained in Eph 3:10. This therefore is the background with which Paul wrote his letters to the churches – that he may mold their individual minds into one mind that is focused on Christ – that they may focus on the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ and nothing else.

Begin to challenge yourself in your reading of the NT, especially the epistles to the churches, by reminding yourself of the fact that they were written to a body, not to individuals. It might help you not making the mistake of claiming promises meant for the body of Christ for yourself.

Secondly, when we write letters, we do so as a result of some previous interaction with the audience or by some happenings that we might have gotten wind of (or to pass on some information we have). And certainly Paul was no exception. All the letters addressed to churches were written as a result of a report about the church in question or some action of theirs. Paul had heard from several sources the conditions existing in the Corinthian church, and so wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians. Note that because of delivery difficulties, most often the letters were delivered by members of these churches when they came to visit Paul. Phoebe was the bearer of the letter to the Romans, and I’ll assume that she came with a report on how things were going in the Roman church. So was Epaphras (or Ephaphroditus) to the Colossian church. Therefore, it is important for us to strive to understand what the problem was (or what the whole intent of the letter was) when Paul was writing his letters, who were the recipients and what was the social, cultural and economic background of these people. In addition, it is imperative to find out if possible how long ago (or if ever) that Paul had been with them. Because Paul always left the churches he founded on their own, and only provided guidance as and when it was requested or when he had something important to teach them.

Try to Ignore Chapter and Verse Divisions when Reading the Epistles

One vital reform that is needed in our reading of the epistles, is to read them as letters, not as books with chapters and verses. A friend of mine told me that they don’t enjoy reading the Epistles because there seem not to be any story to them, unlike the Gospels. That’s because they were reading it as it is presented in most bibles today, not in the original form of it i.e. as a letter written to a church. But think about it. If you were writing a letter to people you knew personally and had spent months (if not years) with, would you divide it into chapters and verses? If not, what makes us think that Paul, Peter, John etc wrote letters in this form? The next logical question then is where did these come from, wreaking so much havoc on our appreciation of the Epistles?

Well, according to scholars, a certain Prof Stephen Langton of the University of Paris added chapters to all the books of the Bible in 1227. Then in 1551, a certain Robert Stepahanus, while riding on a horseback from Paris to Lyons, numbered the sentences in all the books of the New Testament. I still wonder what the criteria was for splitting the books into verses.

By doing so, these letters lost their nature as a letter which should be read fluidly with one chain of thought, and became textbooks, totally divided and easy to unhook from each other to make some vested point. In recent times I came across a very classical case of how chapters and verses have served to hide the intent of the writer in their letter. If the book of 1 Corinthians were to be read as one complete letter, then where we call chapter 12 today would have fused into chapter 13 perfectly (Ch 13 is the famous chapter about love. Yet Paul meant to say that the abundance of spiritual gifts could not exceed the necessity of displaying Christ’s love). Imagine the following without chapters & verses:

Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 12:30 to 13:2).

Having talked about tongues, healing and other spiritual gifts, he goes on to show them a better way, i.e. that having the tongues of men and angels is no substitute for showing love. Even the v 2 of Ch 13 makes it clear he was talking about spiritual gifts (“If I have the gift of prophecy…”). And that is why he extolled all the attributes of love, to show that it was more important than the abundance of “Holy Spiritism”. Without the chapter and verse divisions, its so easy to see what he meant, but unfortunately we don’t tend to come at the NT with this attitude. I still make this mistake a lot, and I’m only asking the grace of God to help me catch the spirit in which these letters were written.

Try To Get the Bigger Picture

Because of our proof texting attitude, we miss the bigger picture of the letters of the NT, and only read the NT with a comb to pick out the parts that suit our ears. Let me give you an example.

John the apostle had written a letter to one of the churches in Asia, most likely introducing some people who had a message of some sorts for the church. Unfortunately, a certain Diotrephes, who must have been an elder in the church, vested in himself the power to decide who to receive and whom not to receive. He even went to the extent of excommunicating other members of the church who tried to show hospitality to these brethren sent by John the apostle. And therefore John wrote to a member of the church this time (called Gaius, who may have also been an elder), encouraging him to be faithful and drawing his attention to what Diotrephes had done and warning them not to follow in his footsteps. This is the import of the book of 3 John. It is one of the greatest indictments of our dictatorial clergy institution, but unfortunately I’ve hardly ever heard it referred to. However, the only part of interest to most Christians is v 2, of which there is a now famous Ghanaian gospel song.

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John v 2).

You see what I mean by “get the bigger picture”? This letter was not written to wish blessings on Gaius, but rather to focus attention on something that was going wrong then (and is still going wrong with us today). Instead of focusing on the import of the letter, we focus on the greeting and assume the rest did not exist.

Be Christocentric

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jn 5:39-40).

These are the words of Christ himself, and they are so apt to today’s situation. To truly appreciate the Bible, and especially the NT, we must come to it with the attitude that what the Old Testament sought to do, the New Testament has fulfilled in the form of Christ. The OT was about Christ, but the Pharisees and scribes read it, quoted it, twisted it and did everything else in between, but did not recognize him whom the Scriptures talked about when he was right there with them. And in a lot of ways we are not very different from the Pharisees. There are two things I’ve noticed about our preaching today.

One is that much of it is centered on the Old Testament. Ask yourself the proportion of preaching today which is from the New Testament (especially anywhere beyond the Gospels?). And yet, we say we are people of a new covenant. How then do we understand the liberation that Christ has brought us, if we are not interested in finding out how those who first received him lived out that freedom?

Secondly, even when preaching or reading the Old Testament, we must be focusing on how the Scripture turns our focus on Christ, and on his fulfillment of these OT Scripture. We must observe that the early Christians did not have the benefit of a New Testament, simply because it wasn’t yet written (or was in the process of being written). As a result, they only saw Christ through the Old Testament, and focused on how Christ is the fulfillment of the OT. Look at what Peter said in Acts 2, and you’ll see that he was only referencing the OT. Gal 3:24 tells us that the OT was a schoolmaster, holding us in check until the real fulfillment came. Therefore, we must always read it with the eye to see Christ in it. Wonder how? Let me give you a classic example.

The OT talks about a priesthood conceived of members of the tribe of Levi only. It’s high priest was appointed from descendants of the family of Aaron. Heb 7 & 8 does a treatise of this priesthood, showing us that Christ is now our high priest, even of the order of Melchizedek, and that we the church have become the priesthood of God, a la 1 Pe 2:9. As Heb 7:11-12 points out to us:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (Heb 7:11-12)

Here we notice then that the principle of a priesthood is a God established principle, however, it’s form has changed from the OT form to a better and more accessible form in the NT. Gone are the days when a certain tribe of people alone could be a part of it. Now, we are all called into that priesthood, and we must all be encouraged and allowed to exhibit that priesthood in the temple of God. The mention of “the temple of God” leads us to another OT comparison, but I think those familiar with my writings and more importantly the reality of Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 3:16 and 6:18 will spare me if I don’t go into those details.

Conclusion

Rediscovering the NT will help you to live a Christian life filled with purpose (not your own but God’s purpose), free from religious rules, laws and superstition, to be ready to suffer for the sake of those of who you walk the walk of Christ with, to see clearly what your place is in the body of Christ and to take an active part in building that body up and encouraging and challenging others to do so – knowing that your reward in the Christ’s kingdom is intricately tied to our participation in building it up. It will teach you to see that it’s about a people that God holds so special in his heart, who are his family, his bride and his temple amongst other amazing things.

I wish you’ll be able to fall in love with the NT again, and discover nothing else but Christ in them. Maybe then you’ll agree with Paul when he “resolved to know nothing else … except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2).

Praise In the Key of The New Testament

One of the defining marks of Christians is praise and worship, and I will not even begin to go into the importance of such an exercise to the faith. Suffice it to say that it is a tool not to be underestimated. It is in the same vein that I’ll like to look at our praise of God in the light of the two theological masterpieces – the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians. The question has never been whether we should praise God or not, its what we should be praising God about.

Before I go on, it is worth noting why I deem these epistles masterpieces, especially Ephesians. The Ephesian epistle is the only one that was not written to address any particular problem that was happening in any church, unlike most of the the Pauline epistles. In fact, some bible scholars argue that since the earlier manuscripts of Ephesians do not have the phrase “in Ephesus” (“To the saints in Ephesus” – Eph 1:1), it may be that it was a circular letter written to a host of churches. It was written during a time of imprisonment in Rome, when Paul was not going anywhere fast.

Paul had already written a gist of the revelations he propounds in here in the prior letter to the Colossians (Don’t fret. Even though most bibles place Ephesians before Colossians, bible scholars agree that Colossians and Philemon were written together and Ephesians followed them, all in AD 61. Maybe you need a chronogical bible, but I’m not sharing mine 😀 ). He only goes on to delve fully into these matters in Ephesians. As an author’s comments on Ephesians goes,

This letter is the crown of Paul’s ministry, ‘the Divinest composition of man’, and ‘the high water of Holy Writ’ … Ephesians is a matchless presentation of God’s eternal purpose and the unsearchable riches the Christians have inherited in Christ. (The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Frank Viola).

I couldn’t agree with him more, because in my experience, it is the book that Christians need to rediscover – one that clearly states in no uncertain terms why the church exists, and why we are called to be a part of it. For me (and countless others I’ve met in the blogoshpere and beyond), it’s one of the books that reinforce why I should be proud to call myself a disciple of Christ in the face of so much despondency and despair at what Christianity has stood for over the centuries.

But I digress. Let us look at the cause for Paul’s praise in Eph 1:3-10. It’s quite a long one, but easy to break down and assimilate.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given to us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace the he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

First off, he says we should praise God for blessing us with every spiritual bless “in Christ”. Now that is mind boggling – not that God is going to bless us, but he has already blessed us. But don’t forget he is very specific about the kind of blessings – spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms “in Christ”. The question is, what are these blessings? Well, if I know God very well, he “will not do anything without revealing it to his prophet”, so I believe it won’t take a rocket scientist to show us what these are – they are right next in line.

  1. We were chosen before creation: This is exciting! Even before Adam and Eve were brought into being, God had chosen us. This reason alone is good enough for us to give praise to God every second. Do you doubt that? Well, even Rev 13:8 says “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world”.

  2. We are predestined to be God’s sons: Have we even thought about what comes along with being a son of God, alongside Jesus Christ? Have we even considered being in the same family as God, with Jesus Christ as our elder brother? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first among many brothers”(Ro 8:29). Do we even understand the fact that the world continues to be in the pain that it is – and that this pain will not go away – until the sons of God are revealed? “The creation awaits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Ro 8:19).

  3. We have redemption through his blood: I cannot overstate the work that Christ did on the cross, turning us “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Ac 26:17). Most assuredly, the battle was won on the cross, but the war will be won in his coming kingdom (Rev 19-22).

  4. He made known to us the mystery: This is the part that fascinates, and enchants me. What is that mystery? That all things in heaven and on earth will be “brought under one head” or “summed up in Christ”. This mystery is so great that God had it hidden in no one than within he Himself. He had kept this mystery from the devil, and in the latter’s planning and scheming, he didn’t know that he was fulfilling that mystery. In expounding “summed up in Christ” further, Paul gives us this gem:

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made manifest to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:8-11)

I’ve been writing about purpose and process, but I tell you, this is the eternal purpose of God. That Christ, through his church, will display the manifold wisdom of God to the everything everywhere, spiritual or physical. You will notice that this purpose was “accomplished in Christ Jesus”. Well, there’s your “summed up”.

You see, most of us don’t realise that God is a God of purpose, and undoubtedly even as he is eternal, so are his purposes. In that ignorance, we always think of Adam’s sin and Christ coming to save us, as if God didn’t know that it would happen. The church for us is an after thought. To God, it’s his masterpiece and part of his purpose from eternity past. I urge you to be transformed by the renewing of your mind about this. But if his purpose considering the church and Christ was an eternal one as stated above, then we must always ask ourselves “What was God’s purpose in creating man”? We must start asking questions about “before creation”, not put our binoculars on “Adam to Christ”. Like Austin Sparks said and I paraphrase, most Christians are stuck at the bottom of a ravine between 2 hills, from which Christ came to redeem us, ignorant of the fact that we were meant to move to the other side of the hill, where God had always intended us to be. Frank Viola terms the two hills Gen 1 & 2 and Rev 21 & 22 – everything else is just an intermediary step. But again, I digress. We will have time to talk about the consequences of the eternal purpose of God later.

(I’d recommend “From Eternity to Here, Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God” by Frank Viola or “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet if you want to get a full discussion of God’s eternal purpose. Again, I won’t give you mine 😉 ).

However, I want us to be happy about the fact that we are part of that church, part of that eternal plan before Adam fell. Another reason to be ecstatic.

Might I remind you that all these reasons given by Paul for praising the glorious grace of God are extremely spiritual. They are absolutely connected with the heavenly. In fact, Paul had this in mind already when he wrote the previous letter to the Colossian church (thinking chronologically here, remember) about their attitude, reminding them to set their minds on things above.

Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4)

Again, he reiterates how everything is summed up in Christ – how we died and our life is hidden in Christ, by virtue of which we can only appear in glory when Christ’s glory is manifested. He makes it ample clear that our glory is not on this earth. And again, it is not for naught that Paul gives the same reminder to the Corinthians.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor 15:19).

So, what is my point? What has this got to do with our praise?

I hear too often, and my ears grow weary, of Christians only praising God for bread and butter. I’m heartbroken at how we excel at praising God with the clichéd, “I thank God for taking care of me and my family throughout the week …”. I’m astounded at the vim with which we everyday praise God for “Making us somebody amongst our earthly peers” and having saved us from “Families without hope of any success”. It’s like a canker. It’s in our “gospel” music, local or foreign. Its in the pulpit, and it’s in Christian literature. It’s everywhere.

The question I want to ask us Christians is this – when it comes to comfort, prosperity, family comforts and world fame, who are on top of the list? I’m not very familiar with the world’s rich list (I hope my ignorance is forgiven, because there are weightier matters than these), but remind me if Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Sultan of Brunei and the Queen of England are people you will consider true Christians. Even ordinary “by mouth” Christians. Hmm, I didn’t think so. Make no mistake, if you are aspiring to “Bill Gateship”, you are in the wrong organisation (i.e. the church).

Because it is a well known fact that the world’s most successful people are either self-professed or can be considered atheist. A few may have a belief in God, and fewer yet in Christ. Yet we are lost in trying to attain the world’s comforts by “going through God”. And, because we do not know what Christ has given us which makes us diametrically different from these people, we continue to “praise” God for the things that he gives to everyone, whether they believe in God or not. Even the Psalms say that it is God who gives rain to the wicked as well as to the righteous. So, when we are praising God, I find it very very disquieting that we have very little notion of some of these things that are causes for the praise of the New Testament writer’s praise. In fact, there are few occasions in the NT where the writer praises God for anything other than the hope that he has called us to, the eternal purpose which he predestined from the foundation of the earth, the salvation which he has given us, the body of Christ which is the church of which we are part, the bride of Christ to which we belong, the house/temple of God of which we are precious stones in, the royal priesthood and the holy nation of God to show forth God’s excellencies, etc. If we are people of a new covenant and not the old, then I challenge us to redefine our praise according to New Testament standards.

I’m not saying that don’t praise God for what he provides for you. Far from it. But like my dad said the other day, if you sow to earthly hope, you will reap earthly hope. Obviously I do not need to state the converse.

If we are truly sons of Abraham, “who was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), and is still waiting for that city that Christ his seed will bring (again another example of “bringing everything under” his headship or “summing up”), then our praise must change to reflect that glorious hope. Because it is indeed glorious and great.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Mt 5:12)

The Law and Grace: Differences Between the Covenants

I find that one of the greatest confusions created by dominant Christianity today is the (un)intentional mingling and confusion of some of the foundations or truths of the covenants of the Law and that of Grace (or Old and New Testaments). I’ll try in this post to outline some of differences between them and how these understandings should influence our actions as Christians.

  1. The New Testament is based on what God “promised to our fathers” (Ac 13:32; 2 Co 7:1;2 Pe 3:4,9). It is based on unconditional promises made to Abraham (Ge 12:2-3;15:4-21; Gal 3:14,16) and repeated his immediate descendants Isaac (Ge 26:24) and Jacob (Ge 28:13-15) and also to David (2 Sa 7:11-16;Is 55:3-5). However after 400 years of giving the promises he now creates a new covenant – one based on a conditional promise (Ex 19:5) to his favourite nation Israel (contained in all of Ex 19-24). Heb 8:6 says the New Testament is founded on better promises. You see why?
  2. Both covenants had mediators, and the Old Testament’s mediator was Moses (Dt 5:4-5; Jn 1:17; Gal 3:19). However there is something unique about the New Testament. Because it is based on an unconditional promise, it means that one cannot appeal to any middle person to force compliance or fulfillment of that promise (it is self-maledictory – Heb 6:13-14,18). The delivery of that promise is based on the person’s own honour. God is forced to fulfill his sworn promise by coming down on earth himself in the form of Christ. And so Christ is the mediator of the covenant which He himself, as the word of God (Jn 1:1) covenanted with the fathers (1 Ti 2:5;Heb 12:24; 8:6; 9:15). This is what Paul meant when he said “A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one” (Gal 3:20). God himself is the keeper/enforcer of his own covenant through Christ – no middleman.
  3. The promises made to the fathers contained elements for not only Israel’s attention but for the whole world at large. God tells Abraham that “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. He reiterates it to Jacob as well (Ge 28:13-15). God tells David that his kingdom will be established and will rule the world forever. However note what Moses says in Dt 5:3: “It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today”. Ex 19:5 says “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession”. The Law was given for Israel and Israel alone to follow. It could be applied to a gentile only if they had been converted to Judaism.
  4. In the Old Testament a tribe was set aside as the tribe of priests, the Levites. They alone were to offer prayers and sacrifices both on behalf of themselves and the nation under the leadership of a high priest. In the New Testament, the High Priest is Christ himself (Heb 8:1-2) who once and for all performed the sacrifice in the heavenly typification of the earthly temple with his blood (Heb 9:23-26). This is in stark contrast to the Old Testament where the chief priest had to offer blood again and again to cleanse both himself and the nation. Also the New Testament considers all its partakers priests. All these priests must act under the direction of the Holy Spirit and display different gifts and ministries in an equal brotherhood as children of promise (Joel 2:28; Jer 31:34; Eph 4:11;1 Co 12:7-11). There is no division between so called “clergy” and “laity” (1 Pe 2:4-5; 9-10) as this is just an attempt by self-serving men to use OT priesthood to confuse and therefore gain control over their fellow NT brothers (Gal 4:21-31). “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come – one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Heb 7:11). No wonder Gal 5:1 says “do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery“.
  5. In the Old Testament tithes were paid to the Levitical priesthood and they alone had the right to determine what to do with it – “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Nu 18:21,24;Mal 3:8). Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God (Ge 14:18-20). Tithing began before the Law was given and the first instance of it was not to a Levite, for they did not exist then. However, in the Law God redirected it to be paid to them. The New Testament, founded on the “promises to the fathers” and not on the Law requires that we pay our tithe to our High Priest whose priesthood is “of the order of Melchizedek”. As Heb 7:9-10 says, even Levi can be considered to have paid it even when he was still in the loins of his forbearer Abraham. Because the New Testament banishes the Levitical priesthood (v 11), the already illegal “clergy” has no right to claim tithes paid by Christians to Christ as theirs. We as a “people”, a “priesthood” and a “nation” of and belonging to Christ have the right to determine what we want to do with our tithes, which could include giving “double honour” to the elders whose work is teaching and preaching (1 Ti 5:17-18). They themselves cannot claim “Levitical priesthood” and do what they want with it. I hope they realise that “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (Heb 7:12) and come to repentance. Our tithing as Christians is not paid to Old Testament Levitical priesthood but to the priest “of the order of Melchizedek” – Christ. Christians must wake up and stop being deceived by the so called “men of God”.
  6. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon men and women of God, such as his prophets, kings etc (Jg 6:34;1 Sa 10:10). In those times the Holy Spirit was an influence that came upon them to do the will of God. In contrast the Spirit lives with and in men and women of the New Testament (Jn 14:15-17;Jn 7:37-38;Joel 2:28;Ac 2:4;Eph 5:18). That is why Paul says we individually are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19) and as a group are also the temple of the Spirit (1 Co 3:16). The work of conviction of the unrepentant person is done by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:8), therefore the Old Testament experience of the influence of the Spirit exist for anyone who comes into Christianity anew. But the new experience of the Spirit must be felt by him filling each and every disciple. He is our only source of power to do good works (Ac 1:8), the seal guaranteeing our inheritance (Eph 1:14), the One who leads us into all truth (Jn 16:13), teaches us the mind of God (1 Co 2:10,16) and binds us together into one body (1 Co 12:13) . Works done without the direction of the Spirit does not and cannot please God (Ro 8:6-8;Gal 5:16-18). His indwelling presence in every believing Christian cannot be overemphasized, failure of which only leads to “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Ti 3:5). No doubt the majority of the church today is guilty of this grave sin, with orthodox Christianity the most guilty.
  7. The Old Testament had special days and times set aside for special events – Passover, Sabbath, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Tabernacles etc (Lev 23). However, all these were set aside with the coming into being of the New Testament, especially for us Gentiles (Gal 3:23-25). That is why Paul was concerned when he found the Galatians “observing special days and months and seasons and years” (Gal 4:10). The only sacrament of the New Testament covenant is that of The Lord’s Supper and no more. This is one reason why it is not a vital issue whether we meet on a Saturday or Sunday so far as we do not neglect gathering together to encourage and build up one another, and another reason why the early predominantly Gentile church decided to meet on “the Lord’s day” (Ac 20:7). However modern Christianity has burdened itself with all sorts of institutionalized Christmases and Easters and Lents etc. Observe that anytime God told Abraham to do something and he (Abraham) did something else in addition, trouble came out of such an action. Look at the trouble Lot brought him (Ge 13-14) when God gave a simple instruction – “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household …” (Gen 12:1). God promised him a son by Sarah, but being impatient he had to go for one from Hagar first and we all know how his descendants are suffering for that. Are we trying to write our own version of the Law? Now Christianity finds its “special days” hijacked by the world for it’s own pleasures and we are battling to explain to an unrepentant world the significance of our own self-instituted, non-scriptural “special days”. Santa Claus is going nowhere. We created him!

These are a few that I’ve discovered so far. Hope to flesh it up with more as the Holy Spirit gives the guidance. In the meantime ponder them in your head, and find out whether you are being “Lawful” or “Graceful”.